Tom Sorensen

Steve Spurrier’s stance on Confederate flag came early, a precursor to needed change

Former South Carolina Gamecocks football coach Steve Spurrier was early to the party – and on point – when he said the Confederate flag was inappropriate at the S.C. State House.
Former South Carolina Gamecocks football coach Steve Spurrier was early to the party – and on point – when he said the Confederate flag was inappropriate at the S.C. State House. AP

Editor’s note: This column originally published on April 18, 2007.

I had hoped to catch up with South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier on Tuesday. I wanted to see his to-do list.

(1) Laugh at jokes told by prominent Gamecock Club members at Greenville golf outing.

(2) Start preparing one-liners for Clemson. Tiger walks into a bar

(3) Buy latest Dixie Chicks CD.

(4) Continue to rail about Confederate flag on State House grounds, because as long as it’s there, people will think South Carolina endorses the thing.

Spurrier is the most famous man in South Carolina. So when he said Friday and again Saturday that the flag should come down, folks around the state, the South and the nation realized it’s a new day in South Carolina. Specifically, it’s 2007.

I was born in the South, but it was south Minneapolis, so I share little history with the sons and daughters of the Confederacy for whom the flag represents heritage and not hate.

But to Southerners such as Spurrier, who grew up in Tennessee and made his legend in Florida, the heritage the flag represents could be the heritage of holding the title to other human beings. You can tell me most South Carolinians did not own slaves. I can tell you most couldn’t afford them.

Former Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Brentson Buckner grew up in Columbus, Ga. The flag was always there; he never thought about it. Then he got to Clemson and became aware of all the flag represented. It infuriated him, but what could he do? So he admires Spurrier for his stance.

Enough to pull for the Gamecocks?

“No, no, “ Buckner says quickly. “But I respect what he did.”

No matter how you interpret the flag, it will come down. Seven years ago it was moved from the dome to the Confederate Monument, and soon, I suspect, it will find a place inside.

The fight will be bitter. It always is when people think you’re trying to steal a piece of their past.

Another tradition folks bitterly fought to maintain was the tradition of separate water fountains for whites and blacks. I know you don’t believe me, but some whites fought to prevent blacks from drinking at the same fountains they did. When change comes, you shake your head and wonder what took so long.

I called the Gamecock Club on Tuesday to ask how its members have responded to Spurrier’s stance. The club was nice enough to call back.

“No comment!” the club said.

I also called the ticket office. How many tickets have fans turned in to protest Spurrier?

You could almost hear the smirk over the phone.

It’s not about South Carolina looking backward and bad to the rest of the country. It’s about living in South Carolina and wondering if yours is the state that time forgot because how else could it tolerate a public display of an icon that represents slavery?

I don’t know if Spurrier has ever lost a recruit because the player saw the Confederate flag and wondered if one of Spurrier’s assistants was Trent Lott, U.S. senator from Mississippi.

I do know if the recruit were thirsty, he could sip from the same fountain the old ball coach did.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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